Attracting Beneficial Wildlife To Your Pond

Build, maintain, or repair ponds the way nature intended.

Attracting Beneficial Wildlife To Your Pond

A pond will serve as a magnet for attracting wildlife to your property, though there are both advantages and disadvantages to animal visitors.  Some animals are harmless, entertaining, and/or beneficial to the pond ecosystem, while others can pose various threats to it.  

Most of the animal visitors are just passing through while others are more than happy to take up permanent residence in your pond.  Pond owners come to expect this and it is for this reason that many consider installing a pond in the first place.

In this article, we are going to list the various beneficial creatures that may appear and why they are beneficial.  Please note that some animals may be both beneficial or harmful depending on the environment. 

List of Beneficial Animals according to category:

Birds:

  • Songbirds,
  • Ducks, Swans, and Geese
  • Swallows

Amphibians:

  • Frogs
  • Toads
  • Salamanders/Newts

Reptiles:

  • Snakes (non-venomous)
  • Turtles 

Insects:

  • Dragonflies
  • Butterflies
  • Bees
  • Various water bugs

Birds

Songbirds

It is an absolute delight to see songbirds drinking and splashing among the edge of the pond or perhaps perched on a branch near the water.  Needless to say, pond owners usually enjoy the entertainment provided by these lively creatures.  There is also the added benefit that many of these songbirds eat insects like mosquitoes.  

Common visitors include:

  • wrens
  • blackbirds
  • goldfinches
  • cardinals
  • blue jays
  • mockingbirds 

A blackbird taking a bath.

Ducks

Ducks are rather picky about their choice of waterways.  They prefer larger bodies of water and not your typical small backyard oasis.  But if your pond is large enough, then you may see ducks visit from time to time, especially in the spring when they are scoping out nesting sites.  Ducks, while messy, are very entertaining swimming on the surface of the water often in pairs or larger groups.  

Swallows

I put the swallows under it’s own category due to their unique acrobatic style of drinking.  Just as their name suggests, swallows are able to drink while flying.  

When a swallow is thirsty, it opens its mouth while gliding just above the water’s surface.  It’s bottom beak barely skims the water into their mouths.  In order to do this their flying patterns are really amusing to see.

By sanchezn, Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=23582376

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Amphibians

Frogs

A pond wouldn’t be a pond without at least one frog.  There are many species of frog and in our area of Virginia, many of them will be found in and around the pond at at least some point.  Frog species where I live include bull frogs, leopard frogs, and tree frogs.  The largest of them is the bullfrog (see below), identified with the prominent yellow underbelly.  Bullfrogs are considered invasive in many areas due to their voracious appetites which include many more animals than just insects.  They even eat other bullfrogs.  If it can fit in its mouth, it is fair game!  This is why I believe that it is imperative to have rosies or other small minnows in the pond, to lessen the impact on more appealing fish.  But I would make the argument that all frogs should be welcomed to your pond environment.

Bullfrog caught at the pond to bring inside to show the kids.

Frogs are an important part of a pond’s ecosystem for several reasons.  First of all, the tadpoles make an excellent food source for koi, and other fish.  Tadpoles also eat algae, which is always a welcome benefit.  Small frogs consume smaller insects like gnats, mosquitoes, and flies.  Larger frogs will consume larger insects like grasshoppers, crickets, and spiders.  Sounds good to me!  

Another benefit to frogs is their singing which is synonymous with summertime nights and relaxation.  

Toads

Toads are similar to frogs in which instead of leaping, they tend to hop along the ground.  They are noticeably different than frogs due to the bumps (or warts as many people call them) on their skin.  These bumps produce a toxin that is distasteful to would-be predators but harmless to humans.  They also have a juvenile tadpole stage as well.  

Unlike some other animals, toads are not picky about water sources for the express purpose of reproduction.  Toads, like frogs need ponds to mate, and lay eggs.  These eggs hatch into little black tadpoles, easily identified by their shorter tails in comparison to frog tadpoles.  Toads do not stay at the pond for long, but as many pond owners can tell you, there is about a week or two where they will literally come out of the woodwork to the pond.  It is during this time that you will be serenaded by a chorus of toads calling for their love.  

A toadlet recently emerged from the pond. You will often see hundreds roaming near the pond after they just grow their legs.

Toads are beneficial because like frogs they eat a lot of insects!  Many people turn away from building ponds due to the concern that it will be breeding grounds for insects.  Toads help keep this in balance by consuming bunches of them.

Salamanders/Newts

The difference between salamanders and newts are slight.  Typically a salamander primarily lives out of the water, but a newt spends most of the time in the water.  All newts are a type of salamander, but not all salamanders are newts. If you are fortunate to have salamanders or newts in your pond, they are an important part of the ecological balance of your pond.  They, like other amphibians will pretty much eat anything that moves in or out of the water.  This includes worms, maggots, nymphs (juvenile insects), etc.  

Reptiles

Non-Venomous Snakes

Snakes that are non-venomous include a huge range of species, so it is hard to generalize all non-venomous snakes as beneficial.  However, most are beneficial in and around the pond environment because of their propensity to eat other animals that could be harmful to the pond.  For instance, if you see a large black snake, they eat mice, voles, moles, and other small mammals that might chew a hole in your pond liner!  Many pond owners have had the misfortune to experience a leak because of rodents like chipmunks and the like.  A snake could be a good deterrent and minimize this risk.  While you may be afraid of snakes, think of them as playing a vital role in maintaining balance.  And besides, snakes usually don’t stick around too long.

Garter Snake. Good camouflage.

Here I am holding a garter snake found near the pond.

Turtles

My favorite animal in my pond at the moment is without a doubt our “pet” painted turtle that visited us and never left.  He literally comes over to me in the hopes that I throw koi food!  He even lets me pick him up.  He over-wintered this year and has made our pond his permanent home (for the time being at least).   The primary benefit of turtles is the enjoyment of having them.  And there are disadvantages as well.  They can eat your fish.  They can scratch your fish with their claws when trying to get food.  But I’d definitely argue that the advantages definitely outweigh the disadvantages.  Make sure you create a way for the turtle to climb out of the pond and bask.  The best aquatic turtles to have would be the smaller species:

  • Painted Turtles
  • Red-Eared Sliders
  • Map
  • Musk 
  • Mud

Unless you have a very large clay pond, you DO NOT WANT A SNAPPING TURTLE.  They can eat your koi, frogs, etc.  They might even tear a hole in your liner with their large claws.

Insects

Dragonflies and Damselflies

Dragonflies and Damselflies really animate the pond environment in the summertime.  They are truly beautiful and can come in a variety of colors including blue, green, and red.   

They fly along the perimeters of the water looking for plants to lay eggs on.   They can even lay eggs directly into the water.  These eggs and nymphs provide a valuable food source for multiple animals including fish, newts, etc.  Also the nymphs themselves eat MOSQUITO LARVAE.  They also eat other aquatic worms, tadpoles, and even small fish.

Adult dragonflies also eat mosquitoes and other flying insects.  In fact they can eat their body weight in insects every 30 minutes!  That is a lot of insects. 

Butterflies

Butterflies are often attracted to the various plantings and flowers that grow in and out of the pond.  They are beautiful and a joy to see.

Bees

The primary benefit to bees is their ability to pollinate the flowers to create seeds.  

Various Water Bugs

There are numerous water bugs that pond owners will usually come across.  These include:

  • Water Boatmen
  • Diving Beetles
  • Water Striders
  • Water Fleas
  • Whirligig Beetles
  • Water Scorpions
  • Many More

The primary benefit of these creatures is to eat decaying plant material, other animals, and to provide food for fish, newts, etc.  They should be considered valuable and not a concern for pond owners.  A great resource to read more about them can be found HERE.

In Conclusion

My hope is that pond owners respect wildlife as an intrinsic part in creating ecological balance.  Ponds naturally attract animals and this should be considered before building one.  We need to take a more measured approach instead of trying to control every aspect of our pond environments.  I believe that it will lead to more satisfaction as a pond owner, and provide unique opportunities to observe nature at its best.     

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